Monday, September 04, 2017

Woodstock: The Remarkable Captain Samuel Stephens, Mayflower descendant and son of a Revolutionary

 Captain Samuel Stephens and Emma Swan, our 4th great-grandparents, were relative latecomers to Woodstock with their arrival in Woodstock around 1815.

Samuel Stephens in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Samuel was born to Edward Stephens and Mayflower descendant Phoebe Harlow in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

Birth and death records are not available for Samuel but his gravestone indicates he died at age 90 in 1856, which puts his birth at about 1766. A 1913 SAR application by a great-grandson, Harold Ellsworth Stevens, MD, in Lewiston, ME, gives a birth date of September 16, 1768, but the source of that date is unclear unless from family records. Indeed, the Revolutionary War pension application of his brother, William, makes reference to a family Bible with birth dates.

Both parents were in their 40's when Samuel was born, the 9th of ten children. Three of the 10 died young - a brother at age 3 before Samuel was born, and two sisters at ages 21 and 27.

Samuel grew up in a revolutionary age and family. When but eight years old, his father and three brothers marched with a Plympton military company to nearby Marshfield on April 19, 1775, the day of the Lexington alarm. While surrounding areas were revolutionary bent, Marshfield was a hotbed of Loyalists. Brother William spent 7 months in the young colonial Navy on the brigantine Hazard in 1777-78.

Samuel had several losses before he turned 22 with the death of an older sister in 1786, his mother in 1787, father in 1788, and another sister in 1791.

The earliest record of Samuel occurs with his 1788 marriage to a young woman from the neighboring farm, Desire Harlow, just months after his father’s death. Their first child, Samuel Jr., was born 7 months after the marriage. They had another two children by 1798, the year Samuel purchased a lot in Paris, Maine.

Samuel is again mentioned in his father’s probate papers in 1789. Although his father owned significant land in the Plympton/Plymouth/Marshfield area, he died insolvent and his land was sold off to his sons and sons-in-law to cover his debts. A small, but nice parcel at Hobbs Hole went to 21 year-old Samuel, perhaps made possible with money from the his new wife’s family. Farming soil in Plymouth was acidic, porous, and downright poor for farming except for a few patches, one of these being Hobbs Hole, “a 15 minute walk from Burial Hill in Plymouth.” Even with a workable piece of land, Samuel’s attention turned to other opportunities in the expanding colonies.

Samuel and Desire in Paris (great name for a movie)

Still a young man at age 31, Samuel and Desire and children joined a host of others migrating from the Plymouth, Plympton, and Marshfield areas to inland Maine in the years after the Revolution. Samuel’s brother, Sylvanus, became an early resident of nearby Sumner although it’s not clear when he arrived.

We know Samuel purchased the 100 acre “Center lot” in Paris, Maine, in 1798, from Lemuel Perham and the family finally traveled the 188 miles from Plymouth to Woodstock in 1800. Tragically, Desire died in 1801, leaving Samuel with three young children. Samuel married our 4th great-grandmother, Emma Swan, the following year.

Emma’s father, William Swan, a Revolution soldier who fought at Bunker Hill, moved his family to Paris by 1790 and was an early settler of Woodstock by 1802, about the time Emma married our Samuel in Paris.

Samuel had another six children with second wife Emma. Desire must still have been on his mind as their first child was named Jesse Harlow Stephens. One of their children, Oren, died young, perhaps only two years old.

Samuel took an active role in the early Paris community. He and another Paris resident, Nicholas Smith, built a grist mill on Smith Brook. He was on the committee to build a Baptist Church in the town, treasurer for the town 1803-04, and selectman/assessor in 1806 and 1810. He cast musket balls to arm the town's War of 1812 militia.

Samuel and Emma in Woodstock

By 1815, Samuel once more moved his family, this time to Woodstock and - again - he was a prominent member in the community. He was a Selectman in 1817 and Overseer of the Poor in 1818. At a town meeting in 1817, “old Mrs. Lucy Swan was set up at auction and struck off to Samuel Stephens at $1.09/week.” The town handled their old folk in those days by auctioning off care to the lowest bidder. Old Lucy, indeed, was Emma’s mother, our 5th GGM; she died the following year. 

After moving to Woodstock, Samuel bought a grist mill afterwards known as the Captain Stephens Mill, and businesses built up around the area, including a blacksmith shop, hotel, and a circus ground. Stephens Mills was the business center of Woodstock for several years. The unreliable water source allowed the mill to operate only intermittently and it was dismantled in 1834.  

Woodstock Corner about 1830, from Woodstock Chamber of Commerce

Samuel and Emma built a beautiful home that was the last of the original Stephens Mills settlement when it burned down in 1968.

Captain Samuel Stephens house, built in 1815, photo in 1955, from Stephens Mills website
School areas were redistricted in 1820 and Samuel's farm was in the First district along with the Swan and Bryant families, also grandparent ancestors.

Samuel served two terms in the Maine legislature, elected in 1827 and 1831 to represent Woodstock which meant trips to Portland until the state capital was moved to Augusta in 1832. In 1845, he voted with the minority in favor of liquor licenses in Woodstock.  Most of the town, including another GGF Orsamus Nute, voted for prohibition.

Samuel's oldest son, also Samuel, died tragically at age 43, crushed in a mill accident in Woodstock in 1832, and wife Emma died 4 years later, leaving Samuel a widower for the next twenty years. His oldest son by Emma, Jesse Harlow Stephens, a Methodist minister, hung himself in 1843, reportedly influenced by Millerism.*

*William Miller developed a national following for preaching the Second Coming of Christ would occur sometime in 1843.

In 1850, eighty-two year old Samuel was living with Sam Jr.'s widow and 36 year-old spinster daughter, Mary. He died in 1856 at the age of 90.

Samuel was a "highly respected citizen," clearly involved in the community and did well for himself, particularly given his father's insolvency and no inheritance from the family.  In addition to his property and home, probate inventory showed he had two cows, 10 sheep, a ton of hay, and 5 bushels of potatoes and turnips each, among other sundry things. One of the appraisers of his estate was our Orsamus Nute.

Samuel's family:                                                                                                                                   

Desire Harlow, 1st wife, died in Paris, age 32
  • Samuel Stephens, Jr. (1789-1832), private, War of 1812; m. Mayflower descendant Elizabeth Doten; killed in mill accident at age 43, 2 children.
  • Captain Eleazer Stephens (1792-1852), War of 1812 Navy veteran; m. Nancy Stevens, 5 children.
  • Desire Stephens (1798-1869), m. Artemus Felt, 8 children.
Emma Swan, 2nd wife, died in Woodstock, age 66
  • Jesse Harlow Stephens (1802-1843), m. Abigail Lurvey, 5 children; Methodist minister, hanged himself at age 41. 
  • Benjamin Stephens (1807-1890), m. Julia Maria Davis; 5 children; son Orin became a doctor.
  • Orin Stephens (1809 - ), died young, possibly in 1811.
  • Jane Stephens (1812-1893), m. Joseph Davis; 5 children; daughter Lovina Dunn Davis married our Orsamus Nute.
  • Mary Stephens (1815 - died after 1870), unmarried, lived with father until he died, then on the "town farm."
In total, Captain Samuel had 30 grandchildren.

Samuel, Emma, and Samuel Jr. are buried in Curtis Hill Cemetery. Many other Stephens are buried in the Nute-Stephens cemetery, including son Benjamin and his family, and there appears to have been a close connection between the Nute and Stephens families.

The Mystery of Captain Samuel Stephens 

Paris and Woodstock town histories often refer to Samuel as Captain Stephens even when the rank of other Revolution veterans in these towns is rarely mentioned. The source of Samuel's captainship is not documented from the Revolution, nor is he listed as one of the Paris men training for the War of 1812.

The Woodstock Samuel Stephens has been generally accepted as a Revolution privateer:
  • From Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors: Samuel Stevens, Gloucester. Descriptive list of officers and crew of the ship “America” (privateer), commanded by Captain John Somes, sworn to in Suffolk Co., June 8, 1780; age 14 yrs; stature 3’10 “; residence Gloucester.
  • Maine Veterans Cemetery Records documents the same information under his name, associating the information with our Samuel’s gravestone, and citing Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors as the source information.
  • His gravestone has an American Revolution veteran marker.
  • Stephens Mills website sources the Woodstock Samuel Stephens as this young Gloucester teen.
Here are the problems with this claim:
  • There is no doubt our Samuel is from Plymouth, and not Gloucester. Paris and Woodstock town histories refer to Samuel as being from Plymouth, he married a young woman from the Plymouth Harlow family, he is listed in the Plymouth Edward Stephens probate papers, and brother Sylvanus from Plymouth lived in nearby Sumner.
  • Gloucester had an extensive Stevens family headed by William Stevens, famed as a master ship carpenter in the 1600s, and rampant with Samuel named offspring. They spell their name Stevens, whereas our Plymouth family were Stephens.
  • If his gravestone is correct, Samuel would have been 12 and not 14 years old at the time this young sailor took to sea harassing the British.
  • The Gloucester teen was 3’10” tall and would have had to grow another 12” to be out of the category of dwarfism. American Revolution men were tall, averaging three inches taller than the British soldiers. An average American adult male would have been 5’8” in those days, about an inch less than the contemporary American male. If we extrapolate to 14 year old boys of that era, an average Revolution era 14 yr old boy would be about 5’3 1/2”. A 3’10” fourteen year old sailor would have stood out, so much so that the stat got put into the listing in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors.
In order for our Woodstock Samuel to be the Gloucester teen privateer, he would have had to make his way 75 miles north from Plymouth to Gloucester by age 14, back to Plymouth before age 20 to impregnate and marry the Plymouth Desire Harlow, and grow another two feet.

More likely, the connection between the Woodstock Captain Samuel Stephens and Gloucester privateer is incorrect. Quite possibly, our Samuel attained his Captainship post-Revolution in the local militia, following the footsteps of his Revolution father and brothers, rising up the ranks as he seemed to do most of his life. Even more likely, he was in the seafaring business in Plymouth as many in the area were wont with poor farming quality in the area. He was set with the family house on the property at Hobbs Hole and until age 30 captained his own boat. This would explain why he continued to use the title Captain in later life when other Revolution veterans in the Woodstock/Paris did not. As in, aye, aye Captain.

Next up, The Stephens family before Woodstock . . .

The Old Village of Woodstock, Maine, 1808-1840-50, Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.
A History of Buckfield, Oxford County, Maine from the earliest explorations to the close of the year 1900.
History of Woodstock, Me. : with family sketches and an appendix, William Berry Lapham, 1882.
History of Paris, Maine, from its settlement to 1880, William Berry Lapham, 1884.
History of the town of Gloucester, Cape Ann : including the town of Rockport, Babson, 1860.
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War
Woodstock Cemeteries, compiled  by Joyce Howe
Stephens Mills webside,

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